Thursday, January 28, 2010

Joke's on me!

Need a good laugh? Take a break from the keyboard, sit back and grab a steaming cup of hot chocolate (the sugar-free kind is a delicious pick-me-up and guilt-free!).

Today I thought I'd borrow a terrific writer's joke from WordServe agent Rachelle Gardner's blog:

How many agents does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Agent 1: Sorry, we're not accepting screw-in lightbulbs anymore. Bayonets only, and we only get them from the lightbulb store.

Agent 2: We considered your lightbulb but it's a bit too modern. Have you considered turning it into a candle?

Agent 3: Loved your lightbulb. Lots of illumination. Unfortunately, the agency's decided to remain in the dark indefinitely.

Ha! You've gotta love an agent who is secure enough to poke fun at herself.

As a writer, it's sometimes difficult to laugh at our own faux pas. We tend to take ourselves a little too seriously. Here's one on me from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:

"Because I failed to thoroughly proofread a cover letter, instead of assuring an editor that I'm an internationally published freelance writer who shuns incompetence, I admitted that I'm internally published and try to avoid incontinence.

"When I realized my alteration, I hastily apologized and translated that I meant that I write from my heart and clean up after myself. The editor chuckled. My article was accepted."

So what's a funny on you? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"50 Ways to Feel Great Today"

What Revell says...

Feeling a little down? Maybe more than a little down? Here are 50 potential remedies. Changing how we feel often begins with a small thing. Listening to a beautiful song. Enjoying a sunset. Making a happy memory. This book helps readers discover how to beat stress, ward off worry, and banish the blues. 50 Ways to Feel Great Today offers medically and scientifically sound advice for giving a blah mood the boot. These time-tested ideas are simple and often low or no cost. While no "be happy" pill exists, the activities in this book equip readers to become their own helping hand.These authors are respected experts who offer sound spiritual and medical advice. This book provides techniques, strategies and physical & emotional disciplines to help you improve your overall health.

What I liked...

This book is well worth your time. It's filled with credible and valuable information to help readers age well and live well. And one thing I appreciated, author-to-author...there was plenty of research and statistics to back up the suggestions. Ideas to make life a little better were very do-able...simple things like brushing your teeth with your left hand or learning a new help create new pathways in your brain. Motivating, practical, useful, and uplifting, too!

Available January 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Jenna's Cowboy" by Sharon Gillenwater

What Revell says...

This charming romance is Book #1 in the Callahans of Texas series, and brings readers a touching love story set in beautiful west Texas. Jenna Callahan has a young son and rewarding work on her father's ranch. She's content. But she never expected to see Nate Langley back in town--the first guy she noticed, the one her father sent away all those years ago. And she never thought the attraction they felt would be as strong as ever. Jenna's cowboy has some healing of his own to do, though, after two tours of duty in the armed forces. With the help of good friends, strong faith, and a loving family, he hopes to put the horrors of the past behind him--and become the man Jenna deserves. With an emphasis on simple acts of love, Jenna's Cowboy gives romance readers what they want most: a love story with a Texas touch.

What I liked...

Sharon Gillenwater has created an engaging and gentle romance while painlessly educating readers about the serious condition of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She’s also provided a glimpse into how people heal: through compassion and understanding, time, and the healing touch of a caring community. A wonderful book that honors our soldiers and opens our eyes to the lingering problems they might endure as they adjust to civilian life.

Available January 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's My Line?

Have you ever had to make up an entire speech on the spot? While dozens of faces are staring at you, expecting to get their money's worth for the next hour?

Ain't for the weak of heart, let me tell you.

As an author, we sometimes get asked to speak to groups, which is good. Very, very good. But sometimes, we feel completely out of our element. Like a polar bear in Tahiti. And we're fully - painfully - aware that this could turn out badly. Very, very badly.

I've always admired ministers who use no notes, but say they're led by the spirit about what to say. Wow. How incredibly tuned in they must be. Either that or amazingly clever at improv. Like Wayne Brady. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them.

One night this week as I stood before a group of young (20 something) yuppie mothers in the club house of an affluent area, I realize my regular prepared speech wasn't going to do, no it wasn't. After my lead in, my first line that usually draws a laugh, but fell totally flat with this group, I knew I was in trouble.

So shooting a shotgun prayer heavenward, I ditched my cheat sheet and began adlibbing. Not really my forte. It started out stilted and a bit like a car engine that keeps going ER-ER-ER-ER and won't quite turn over, but after about 10 minutes, the car finally cranked and started truckin' on down the road.

It was a tough audience, probably the toughest I can recall, but after we passed the "I'm okay, you're okay" point that comes in any presentation, we ended up having a mutually good time. And hey, I ended up selling a nice pile of books. Woo Hoo!

My point? Writing is like that. Sometimes our most detailed outline falls flat. The heroine is cardboard or the plot turns out to be lame. It just doesn't work. ER-ER-ER-ER. We have to chuck Plan A and turn over minds to new possibilities. Plans B, C, D, and E.

So don't fall apart if it happens to you. It happens to all writers at some time or another.

Just keep turning the key until that dang engine turns over.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Agents: Angels from Literary Heaven

Agents. Do authors really need them these days of e-books, handheld electronic readers and new dawn-breaking digital technologies?

You hear rantings on both sides. Love 'em or leave 'em, they say.

As for me, I adore my agent, Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary Agency. Without Greg, I'm confidant Mom NEEDS Chocolate would have never seen the coveted front bookshelf position in national bookstores. And I trust Greg 100% as he pitches my newest book idea to publishers.

I'd like to comment on a few points made by Greg's colleague Rachelle Gardner in her recent blog about this subject.

Agents have traditionally served as writers' first line of defense when cost-cutting publishers (aren't they all these days?) try to lower royalty rates or string out or lower advance payments.

(In case you didn't know, advances are simply royalty payments paid ... in advance. Like an advance in your allowance as a kid - it's not free money. Advances reflect the amount pubs expect a book to bring in during the first 3 months post release.)

Agents also have keen knowledge of the ins and outs of contracts and keep an educated eye on all those tiny clauses that can sneak in and wreck an unwary author. They're an author's best advocate in haggling over rights (especially the confusing e-rights that seem to be evolving daily).

I believe writers owe a debt of gratitude to agents in general; without their past work we wouldn't have the royalty rates, advances, or benefits we have today (if you've ever signed a small press contract you've landed yourself versus a traditional publishing contract your agent snagged, you'll see a HUGE difference).

So there you have my humble but accurate opinion.

No one knows where the industry is heading in these turbulent technologically transitional times (whoa - is this "t" day?), but I plan to continue depending on my agent, whose very livlihood depends on staying abreast of new trends and twists (more t's) on the horizon. Who could I possibly want in my corner more?

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Writing Nuts & Bolts

The following are tips excerpted from the "Nuts and Bolts" presentation I'll be doing for the Lakeland American Christian Writers this week. If your writer's group would like a live or phone-conferenced workshop, contact me at

1. Beware lest rambling descriptions run away with you. Like this Wretched Writer Award winner: "The rising sun crawled over the ridge and slithered across the hot barren terrain into every nook and cranny like grease on a Denny's grill in the morning rush, but only until eleven o'clock when they switch to the lunch menu."

2. Drop the reader in the middle of a scene without throat-clearing (preamble or introduction). Skillfully craft your lead paragraph so that you're imparting lots of information without being obvious.

Here's a good example from one of my faves, Before the Dawn Wind Rises by Laurie B. Clifford. It's not breakneck action (not that kind of a story), but it's got teeth: "We had been married 11 years when I first noticed that Bobby used his fingers to push his food onto his fork. We were having breakfast on the greenhouse porch, autumn blazing like a fandango dancer around us. Janie and Susie were fighting over whose toast had the most cinnamon sugar."

This short passage tells us:
1. The story is written in first person (informal diary form) and the protagonist is a woman, married with two daughters.
2. The family is somewhat affluent (I don't have a greenhouse porch, do you?).
3. A hint of marital discord (forshadowing a major subplot).
4. The time of day and season of the year.
5. A light tone is set right away; indeed, subtle humor riddles the entire book.

3. Avoid too much dialect, which can become confusing, offensive, or out of vogue. Don't risk outdating your book or turning off your reader. The days of Brer Rabbit are no more.

4. Avoid eyeball walls at all costs. (Anything that stops the flow of words; that halts the movie playing inside the reader's head - may be an obscure word, confusing passage, or redundant phrase.) If the reader has to go back and re-read the sentence to understand it, you've just scored a D- in Writing 101.

5. Use concise, precise writing. Take the time to find the perfect word or phrase. Don't say in five words what you can say in two. Blaise Pascal said, "I have made this longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

Write tight!

Friday, January 1, 2010

"Thicker than Blood" Blog Tours Presents:

Thicker than Blood
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Winner of the
2008 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest!

Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?

Our review...

Don’t you wonder how two people from one family—like the two sisters in C.J. Darlington’s story—could begin their lives at the same point and somehow takes turns that would lead them to such very different lives? Are we born who we are, or does life make us that way? The main characters in Thicker than Blood are opposites in every way, though both are heading to a crisis point.

What we liked…

C.J. Darlington addressed some gritty issues in this debut novel: the stubbornness of main character Christy’s addiction and the frustrating, self-destructive cycle of an abusive relationship. Darlington also created a contrast character in Christy’s sister, May. I especially enjoyed how C.J. wove in Scripture without sounding pious or simplistic. That’s not easy to do!

Book lovers will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look into the world of antique book collecting. Nice work, C.J. Can't wait for your next book!

With careful attention to detail, emotion, and scene-setting, C.J. Darlington scores with her debut effort. Here is a special writer you won’t want to miss.
--Jerry B. Jenkins, New York Times best selling author

If you love a good read filled with adventure and ultimately redemption, I encourage you to brew the tea, settle into your favorite chair and pick up the page turner that is C.J. Darlington’s imaginative new novel of a modern day sisterhood that triumphs over separation and the raw challenges of life to find the real endurance of both family ties and God’s amazing grace.
--Rebecca St. James, Grammy award winning Christian singer and bestselling author

With Thicker than Blood, C.J. Darlington proves she's a novelist for the long-haul, a strong new voice in Christian fiction. This book speaks to the heart, from the heart, about the heart. Readers will not soon forget it.
--Sibella Giorello, Christy award-winning author of The Rivers Run Dry & The Clouds Roll Away

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:
C. J. began writing the story that would become Thicker than Blood (her first novel) when she was a fifteen-year-old homeschool student. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over a decade, scouting for stores similar to the one described in the novel before cofounding her own online bookstore. Thicker than Blood was the winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel.

C. J. co-founded the Christian entertainment Web site with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. She makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website for more info.